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Equality Impact Assessments

Volume 483: debated on Tuesday 25 November 2008

1. What estimate she has made of the effect on the expenditure of public bodies of replacement of the requirement to undertake separate equality impact assessments with a requirement to undertake a single assessment. (238582)

The new single public sector equality duty will ensure that public bodies are fair employers and that they design and deliver public services that meet the needs of the whole community. We expect that the costs will be mitigated by the efficiency gains of integrating the existing three duties into a single new process. The new duty is just one part of the simpler, stronger and more effective legal framework that the Equality Bill will deliver.

Will the Attorney-General’s “Race for Justice” declaration help public sector organisations, not least universities, to meet their single equality duty obligations? Does the Minister agree that there will be quite some kudos in being the first university so to do?

I agree that a university that took that opportunity and seized that initiative would gain a good deal of kudos. I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work that he does in the all-party parliamentary group against anti-Semitism. Although “Race for Justice” is a criminal justice declaration, it is infinitely adaptable. It is there to expose systematically, and help to work away and erase, discrimination. It will read across excellently to universities.

Will the Solicitor-General address the point about low-paid women, particularly those in public sector bodies such as Government Departments? Will she assure us that the single equality impact assessment will deal directly with that issue?

An equality impact assessment was carried out when “A Framework for Fairness” was launched, and another will be carried out on the Equality Bill. I should make it clear, however, that we intend to tackle low pay for women in the public sector and also in the private sector. We have set out a number of models for how we intend first to expose it and secondly to tackle it. I believe that the hon. Lady will join cause with us, and I look forward to working with her.

I know that my hon. and learned Friend will agree that paving the way for equality carries costs, but does she also agree that we should measure the benefits as well? Should we not be especially vigilant at a time of economic difficulty when it is only too easy for things to slip, which would surely cause many more problems in the long term?

I entirely agree, but let us be clear about one matter: in business terms, diversity is dynamic. Involving people with different life experiences and different perspectives with which to frame their talents strengthens business, as well as matching it better with its consumers. Yes, of course we must be especially vigilant at this time of pressure, but there is no dosh in discrimination.

I am keen for equality impact assessments to be effective, but I fear that in some cases they have been more about going through the motions. Can the Minister tell me what work is being done to assess the value and change that result from such assessments, and what extra resource she will provide under the new legislation to ensure that there is effectiveness, not just a tick-box approach?

We have been examining, in specific terms, the impact that, for instance, going through a whole gender pay audit can have. Sometimes it is a process rather than an impact. That is why we have hesitated rather than going wholesale for impact assessments, assuming that they are the key to all mythologies and will put everything right. They do not necessarily do that.

We are working on this, and we consider that the watchword for the Equality Bill and for equal pay in particular is transparency. We will pin a number of proposals on to that basic bedrock as we take the Bill forward.

It does not matter whether one duty is involved or three: public authorities, especially local authorities, must have bought into their obligation to carry out those duties. What does my hon. and learned Friend think about Aberdeen city council, which, when it found that it had a £50 million budget deficit in February this year, cut services for disabled people in particular without conducting a disability impact study, any kind of assessment or any consultation? That was a despicable action by a Liberal-SNP administration. Will my hon. and learned Friend ensure that other local authorities, particularly those facing cuts in their budgets, do not—

Apart from the fact that that was obviously an utterly reprehensible way in which to behave, Aberdeen city council, like others, has a duty to promote equality of opportunity for disabled people. It therefore behaved not only in a disreputable way, but almost certainly in an unlawful way. We must make it absolutely plain that that kind of discriminatory behaviour will not be tolerated as we move into a new era in which everyone starts to appreciate the importance and value that are to be attached to diversity.